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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

There has never been a better time to play video games

There has never been a worse time to develop video games

Video games can be a vital distraction from the monotony of quarantine life, but for the developers that worked hard to crunch these games out, the near-future landscape of games looks bleak.

Video game sales are near an all-time high. “Animal Crossing” is breaking worldwide records. “Doom Eternal” had the best sales weekend in the history of the franchise. And professional drivers like Travis Pastrana are staying sane by competing in “Forza” online. Everyone is finding their own way to stay sane or fill up some time, and video games provide the perfect solution.

“Gaming is one of those areas that people are diverting to from other activities that they would have done in a normal world,” Mat Piscatella, an analyst at marketing research company the N.P.D. Group, said to The New York Times. “The game sales that are coming out are breaking franchise records.”

But while franchises are selling at an all-time high and companies are doing better than ever, video game developers and publishers are scrambling to tackle this indefinite crisis. The release of the most anticipated game of 2020, “The Last of Us: Part 2,” has moved from May 29 to June 19 due to concerns over physical sales. Factories are closed, leaving no means of producing a game physically in the midst of a pandemic. Even worse, the entire plot of “The Last of Us” was leaked online. For invested fans like myself, avoiding spoilers is becoming a headache.

Companies like Ubisoft were ahead of the curve and learned all they could from their studios in China about how to successfully work from home. 

But some developers are equating working from home during the pandemic to the same experience of “crunch.” For those unfamiliar with the term, “crunch” refers to the strenuous work conditions in video game development in the final stages of a game’s development where developers can work up to 100 hours a week with lengthy periods of overtime. 

Not to mention that parents working from home also have to homeschool their children in the time warp of a quarantine workday. Being stuck at home can suck all of the motivation and energy out of us — for developers, that’s on top of the hours and work it takes to create a video game with hundreds of developers at home trying to collaborate. Under these conditions, we cannot expect the quality of our games to be the same come fall, winter and spring. 

Any sort of collaborative or creative work necessitates a creative and collaborative environment. Now, without that, video game development is in a terrifying spot. The biggest gaming event of the year, E3, is cancelled. And along with it, a multitude of opportunities for developers both big and small to show off their work that has been in the making for years. Many who were expecting to nail down marketing deals and financing for games at E3 this year are now scrambling to find ways to fund their game. For independent developers, lag in certification and funding could be a death sentence for their studios and projects. 

But amid all of the trouble that developers are experiencing, for me, there is no better time to play video games than right now. Waking up and checking on the turnip prices in “Animal Crossing” is becoming a habit. “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was seemingly designed with a quarantine lifestyle in mind. The game gives players their own new world. A world that seems intentionally slow and annoying at times, but one that we could all use to give us a means of escape — and so has taking breaks throughout the day to play “Fortnite” with my roommates. Both of my newfound traditions are vital elements to find the motivation in a situation where it’s all too easy to fall into anxiety or the slowness of indistinguishable days. 

It’s easy to criticize and complain about technology when it comes to stealing our data, dictating how we act and making us feel lonely. But technology can also provide us with the tools to be social when we are stripped of all traditional means of socializing. Video games provide us with a virtual space to hang out with friends, but more than any other source of entertainment, games are an interactive distraction from the anxiety-inducing environment that is our new reality. 

With the world in turmoil, video games are helping us now more than ever — we should support those who are struggling to make them. Without our support, the creative work that we love won’t be present in our future. Sending a message of encouragement to your favorite developer or creator could go a long way in our fight to return to normalcy. We should thank them not only because these games are fun to play, but because they allow us to escape the tedium of quarantine.

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie


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